System of a Poet
by guest blogger Hattie Jean Hayes
Hattie Jean Hayes is writer and performer of many things, as well as a poet, but I asked her to write a guest post about her submission strategy, since she has such a successful method, far from the “dreamy, impractical” stereotype. Although I am behind on my posts for April is Poetry Month, Hattie was gracious enough to share some of her tips with my readers,
I didn’t begin submitting my work “in earnest” until February of 2021 when I set a goal of submitting a piece of writing every day. By the end of that month, I’d logged 32 submissions on the calendar. That “sprint” broke me of my anxieties or reservations around submissions, and I continued submitting through the rest of the year. My year-long goal was to see 12 pieces of writing accepted for publication; a total of 21 were accepted. I’m on track to surpass that number in 2022. If you’re trying to challenge yourself for a single month or grind on submissions all year, you can use these practices.
I use two tools to inventory all my creative projects: Google Sheets and Notion. I use a spreadsheet titled Creative Project Dashboard to log my in-progress and completed projects, including short stories, novels, essays, scripts, parody songs, original musicals, and poems. Once I begin working on something, it’s allowed to be recorded here – if something is just an idea, it stays in Notion.
Every category of project gets a different sheet, and every sheet has different columns. My stories and essays, for example, get these columns: title, status (in progress, complete, awaiting feedback, editing), synopsis, length, and where I’ve submitted it. The poems get a similar treatment, with the synopsis column replaced with a “spawn point” signifier, so I can remember if something was first drafted during NaPoWriMo, a workshop, etc.
Inventorying my work allows me to track where I’ve sent things, and it means no project is forgotten. There are hundreds of items listed in my document, and when I’m putting together a submission for a journal that will review five or six pieces, it’s helpful to have a list of all my work, so I can say “Wait! I haven’t sent that one out in forever and it totally fits this theme!”
I log all my projects in Notion, a note-taking app/website similar to Evernote. Just use whichever productivity app you’re likely to actually use. I like Notion because I can easily create and move different “pages” in that dashboard. I keep a list of ideas for each category of project, and I put early drafts of the projects themselves in Notion. I really like the flexibility to use dashboards in Notion to track where I am with revisions, or record a bunch of feedback from a workshop and see it at a glance. This is not an ad for Notion, I just like it!
My Notion also has lists of all my accepted and published work, so when these pieces go live, it’s easy to copy and paste the live links onto my website. I have a page in Notion where I record third-person biographies of various lengths since this is something you need to have on hand for submissions.
I don’t rely on Submission Grinder or Duotrope to find and record submissions, only because I find it overwhelming. Sometimes I use the aggregators on ChillSubs.com or in Submittable to look for open journals, but that’s usually when I have a specific piece that hasn’t found the right home, and I need to expand my view a little.
My primary means of finding places to submit are social media. I’m in a submission group on Facebook that introduces me to a lot of new journals, and I use Twitter’s bookmarks feature to flag journals I want to read and submit to.
I have a bookmarks folder on my browser for lit journals, and when I make a new bookmark, I name it “SUBMIT XYZ TO [JOURNAL NAME]” so I’m not confused about the bookmark later. If there’s a journal I’m eager about, and the submission window isn’t open, I set a calendar reminder – with the name of the piece I want to submit – for the day submissions open.
I don’t think you need to be a devoted fan of a literary journal to submit to it, but I do think you should get a feel of the tone and some of the published work. I think I’m most successful when I’m mindful of how my writing will fit a particular journal’s readership. My “best” writing isn’t always the best for the job.
This is probably the most customizable part of the process. When it comes to actually submitting, YMMV! Do you like month-long “sprints” where you send work out every day, or even shorter, day-long marathons? Do you want to fill your calendar with reminders of submission windows, and submit as they open up? Or are you going to focus on one piece of writing, and shop it around until it’s snapped up?
Whatever works for you is good! Make sure that you follow guidelines about submission formatting, and respect any rules around simultaneous submissions. Consider creating a document like mine for short bios/publishing history.
Indexing your writing is just inventorying, again. Once you’ve submitted a piece, index the places you submitted to. There was one poem I submitted to 40 different journals in 2021. By the time it got accepted, I had 9 journals still considering it, and it was so handy to have a list of journals that needed to receive that sweet, sweet withdrawal email.
Log your kudos: were you nominated for a prize? Did your mentor say something complimentary about the piece? Put it in there! If you decide to stop submitting a piece while you revise it, make a note about your different drafts. Once you place it, you’ll want to remember the “before” and “after” so you can see what changed. And if you decide to axe any pieces, consider indexing them into a “graveyard” where they can be cannibalized into new writing later on. I began logging my projects this way in 2016, so I have six years’ worth of ideas (good and bad), drafts (good and bad), and completed pieces (mostly good! some bad) on record. That makes me a hell of a lot more confident when it comes to getting published, and when I get rejected, it’s another data point.
Hattie Jean Hayes is a writer and comedian, originally from Missouri, who now lives in New York. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, HAD, Janus Literary, Sledgehammer Literary and the Hell is Real Anthology. She is working on a novel and several much sillier projects.
The Idea of Order in Poetry Month
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it!
For April is Poetry Month, I posted on my Facebook page one poem a day, for each day in April. Because of the attention-deficit nature of Facebook participants (I include myself), I included only a fragment of the poem, with the idealistic hope that particularly motivated readers would seek out the full poem for savoring. There is this device called Google. And, for now at least, there are still books.
This was the order I imposed on April.
Since April is National Poetry Month, for the nation of the United States, I leaned where possible to American poets — 26 out of 29. (The final post directed Facebook readers to this blog post.) I count T.S. Eliot as half-American because he was born and raised in St. Louis and didn’t become a British citizen until he was 39. Other British-American hybrids, but in the other direction (grew up there, moved here) are Judith Barrington and Denise Levertov. I included St. Louis poets because St. Louis is a city of poets. Also, I am from there. As are T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Joseph Stanton, Sara Teasdale, and Maya Angelou.
All poems were originally written in English. I favored contemporary poets, and when possible, living poets (who could benefit from your patronage). In the spirit of VIDA, I tried to ensure a gender balance (15 women, 14 men!) I leaned toward poems about poetry, writing or other art forms; I figured that was more user-friendly and conducive to the theme. For special days (e.g., the anniversary of the Civil War, Shakespeare’s birthday, Good Friday), I went with the best pertinent fragment. For birthdays, I let the birthday girl have her pick. And yes, I threw in a few poets because in addition to being gifted, entertaining, generous souls, they are also pals (Judith Barrington, Matthew Olzmann, Joseph Stanton.) The full list follows with the key:
A = American
M = Modern
C = Contemporary
In bold face – alive and writing. Google them! Buy their books, go see them at readings!
Maya Angelou – A, C – Phenomenal Woman
Judith Barrington – ½ A, C – The Musicians’ Seamounts
Charles Bukowski – A, M – So you want to be a writer
Billy Collins – A, C – The Norton Anthology of English Literature
e.e. cummings – A, M – somewhere I have never travelled
Emily Dickinson — A — Hope
Stephen Dunn – A, C – Charlotte Bronte in Leeds Point
Lynn Emmanuel – A, C — The Politics of Narrative: Why I am a Poet
T.S. Eliot – ½ A, M – The Waste Land
Deborah Garrison – A, C – A Working Girl Can’t Win
Jonathan Holden – A, C – How to Play Night Baseball
Marie Howe – A, C – The Moment
Clive James – C, L – Whitman and the Moth
Julia Spicher Kasdorf – A, C – First Gestures
Denise Levertov — ½ A, C – Come Into Animal Presence
Thomas Lynch – A, C – Refusing at Fifty-Two to Write Sonnets
Heather McHugh – A, C – A Ghazal for the Better-Unbegun
Marianne Moore – A, M – Poetry
Matthew Olzmann – A, C – Previous Theories of the Body
Dorothy Parker – A, M — Comment
Kay Ryan – A, C — quote from her interview in the Wall Street Journal, regarding poetry, as the Pulitzer winner this year
Christina Georgina Rossetti – Good Friday
Joseph Stanton – A, C – Vermeer’s “A Woman Weighing Gold”
Mark Strand – A, C – Eating Poetry
Mary Jo Salter – A, C – John Lennon
Sara Teasdale – A, M – Advice to a Girl
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 7
Walt Whitman – A – The Uprising
Paul Zarzyski — A, C – Matched Pairs
What are your favorites? Let me know. And I’ll see you on Facebook next April.
Originally published Saturday, April 30, 2011